Skin (short story)

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Skin is a macabre short story written by author Roald Dahl. It is featured in 'A Roald Dahl Selection', a compilation of several short stories by Dahl that has been edited by Roy Blatchford. It is also featured in the short story collection 'Skin and Other Stories' by Roald Dahl

Plot summary[edit]

An old man named Drioli walks through the streets of Paris. When about a time long-ago when they were friends. Over thirty years earlier, Soutine had been in love with Drioli's wife Josie, and on a particular day in autumn 1913, Drioli had no work on nine clients, most of whom had paid in cash. This resulted in unusually large earnings for that day, and he had decided to celebrate by buying three bottles of wine, so of course they were all drunk, Drioli asked Soutine to paint a picture on Drioli's back and then tattoo over it, to which, though initially reluctant, Soutine agreed. Josie posed for it, and Drioli still has the tattoo on his back. After the First World War, Drioli found out that Soutine had been discovered by a dealer and sent to Céret, after which Drioli and Josie moved their tattoo business to Le Havre. During the Second World War, Josie died and Drioli lost his business, being forced into panhandling.

Drioli enters the art gallery, and shows the crowd his incredible tattoo. Several people make bids for it, also inquiring after Drioli's health because the picture actually does not have any value as long as he is alive. Two men in particular offer unusual proposals. One says he will pay for a skin-grafting operation so that the artwork may be removed from Drioli's back, and that he will also pay for the artwork thus obtained; other patrons warn that Drioli would never survive the surgery. The other man, claiming to be the owner of the Bristol Hotel in Cannes, asks Drioli to become an employee of the hotel and to live a life of luxury while exhibiting his back to the guests, somewhat like a model. Drioli, who is hungry, accepts the latter's proposal (though actually he doesn't like this man's appearance) and leaves the gallery with him. His new "patron" invites Drioli to have a good meal together and asks him how he wants to have his duck.

The narrator then explains that there is no Bristol Hotel in Cannes, and that a heavily varnished painting matching exactly the description of Drioli's tattoo turned up for sale at an auction in Buenos Aires a few weeks later. The implication is that the alleged hotel owner murdered Drioli in order to obtain the art on his back. Rather than stating this explicitly, the narrator says that the evidence "causes one to wonder a little, and to pray for the old man's health, and to hope fervently that wherever he may be at this moment, there is a plump attractive girl to manicure the nails of his fingers, and a maid to bring him breakfast in bed in the mornings."